Diplomacy is intense these days at the United Nations over whether the Security Council should endorse a new U.S.-backed resolution to authorize military force against Iraq. Washington may not have the votes to pass the resolution, but as RFE/RL reports, it may not matter when it comes to war and peace.
Washington, 7 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Whether or not the United Nations endorses U.S. President George W. Bush's threat to use force to disarm Iraq, the prevailing view in Washington is that the United States is on its way to war anyway.
With UN arms inspectors expected to deliver a relatively upbeat assessment of Iraqi cooperation in a key report to the Security Council later today in New York, the United States and its allies Britain and Spain look unlikely to have sufficient backing to pass a resolution next week that would authorize using force to disarm Iraq.
Last night, U.S. President George W. Bush said regardless of what the likely outcome would be, the United States would press ahead with a vote on the resolution.
UN diplomats said yesterday that Britain was seeking to reword the resolution to reach a compromise acceptable to the key powers opposed to war: permanent Security Council members France, Russia, and China.
Speaking to a Senate committee yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated U.S. warnings that Washington is ready to tackle Iraq even if the UN is not. "There is a danger of [the UN Security Council] becoming irrelevant, if it passes resolution after resolution that is simply totally ignored by a country in a situation where that country continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. And as the United Nations Security Council fails to deal with this issue, certainly there is a degree of irrelevance then in that council's actions," Powell said.
The new British proposal reportedly would give Iraq a short deadline, less than a week, to show that it has no weapons of mass destruction or else face war.
But analysts in Washington say the question of a second resolution may be irrelevant. The Bush administration looks set to proceed with war regardless of the outcome of any UN diplomacy.
The key question is when hostilities might begin.
The answer of analyst Ted Galen Carpenter of Washington's Cato Institute reflects the prevailing view: "I think regardless of how the [UN] vote goes, we're going to see military operations begin within the next week and a half to two weeks."
The United States and Britain have amassed more than 200,000 troops near Iraq for a possible war to disarm and overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Carpenter added that if the Bush administration senses it cannot garner the necessary nine votes without a veto to pass a new resolution at the Security Council, then fighting may start sooner rather than later. "I could see a scenario in which the administration simply preempts the UN and starts military action even before a vote can be taken, if we've counted noses and it appears certain that we're going to lose the vote," Carpenter said.
University of Michigan professor Raymond Tanter basically agrees with Carpenter. Tanter, a member of former President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council, told RFE/RL that if today's report to the Security Council by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix paints an upbeat picture of Iraqi cooperation, as is expected, it could further harden positions on both sides of the question.
And at that point, Tanter said, Bush will have to act. "The more the president seems to be losing diplomatically, the more likely the president will move [militarily]."
But Tanter no longer believes military action will begin as early as next week. He said Turkey's refusal to allow the United States to station troops to launch a strike on northern Iraq is a key obstacle to Washington's preferred military strategy.
That strategy, dubbed "shock and awe," envisions hitting Iraq at the same time with a massive bombing campaign and land invasions from the north, south, and west.
Tanter said that neither the White House nor military planners want to go with the alternative military plan: a "rolling start" that begins with an air campaign and gradually brings in a land campaign. For that reason, he said that barring a last-minute about-face from Turkey, Washington is unlikely to start a war before it can redirect the troops and equipment now waiting off the Turkish coast to Kuwait. That means, he said, a war starting around 1 April.
It also could mean that the compromise resolution currently being worked on by Britain could actually fit Washington's plans, Tanter said. "The White House actually has the ability to compromise and go along with the British plan of giving the inspectors more time because more time would allow the military to have a further buildup," Tanter said.
Although many countries would regard a unilateral U.S.-led war in Iraq as contrary to international law, Washington believes the war could be legitimized by a long series of previous UN resolutions on Iraq. Resolutions passed before and after the 1991 Gulf War and most recently by Security Council Resolution 1441 -- unanimously adopted last November -- set out a series of disarmament demands that Bush says Iraq has failed to meet.
But Carpenter of the Cato Institute believes that whatever rationale the Bush administration uses, using force in the face of widespread international opposition will hurt. "This would appear to be almost a caricature of swaggering arrogance, and that will not play well with the rest of the world," Carpenter said.
Among the casualties could be U.S. relations with long-standing European allies France and Germany, as well with Russia, China, and key neutral countries, such as India.